This 20-film showcase features emerging and established Taiwanese directors celebrating the renewed vigor of Taiwanese cinema, and it’s an essential introduction to Taiwanese film: a master class on fast forward that dumps decades of cinematic info into your brain in under two hours. Many of the films are incredibly short, no longer than a song on the radio or a sprint through a battlefield. Their subjects range from glimpses of lush rural landscapes to political hot-button statements that would have been impossible to engage with only a decade ago. It’s a collection drawn to the margins, focusing on people, subject matter, and situations excluded from the glossy blockbusters that have recently put Taiwan back on the cinematic map.
In the opening snapshot, “The Ritual” (directed by Wang Toon), two men carry a generator, screen, and projector to a secluded wilderness shrine to offer thanks via the best of “what is popular” in the contemporary world: an impromptu open-air screening of James Cameron’s Avatar in 3D, complete with tiny 3D glasses for the shrine statues. Star of Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale, Lin Ching-tai, a first-time actor and spokesman for the indigenous peoples of Taiwan, offers a desperate prayer as he prepares for the world premiere of his film at the Venice Film Festival in Wei -Te-sheng’s “Debut.”
A pitch-perfect portrait of schoolyard bullying takes a dramatic turn in Chung Mong-hung’s “Reverberation,” when we learn that the viciously bullied child is the dependent of an uncle who is a terrifying local gangster. In Yang Ya-che’s “The Singing Boy,” an honors student confronts a different brand of high school violence: the teachers themselves brutalize the students for the slightest misstep. And the entire short film bonanza ends with “La Belle Epoque,” a new film from the godfather of the Taiwanese new wave, Hou Hsiao-hsien. The great thing about this collection, studded as it is with gems, is that if you don’t like one film, another wildly different one will be onscreen in less than ten minutes.